Yesterday was the 100th day since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was inaugurated on May 20. In Western countries that is generally used as an opportunity to look back as well as to look forward. While in her meeting with the media in Taipei on Aug. 20, Tsai herself cautioned against hasty conclusions and counseled people to maintain a long-term perspective, we do want to briefly take stock and assess how her first 100 days as president have evolved.
The first overall conclusion is “so far, so good”: While from the start of her administration there were several unexpected developments, her government was able to deal with them in a pragmatic, evenhanded manner, reflecting her own low-key and balanced approach.
Two such unexpected events were the accidental firing of a missile from a Taiwanese navy vessel at Zuoying Naval Base, which hit a Taiwanese fishing boat near Penghu, killing the skipper, and the accident on Aug. 16 when a tank returning from an exercise malfunctioned and rolled into a river, killing four soldiers on board.
The two incidents did enable Tsai’s administration to start a number of much-needed reforms in a military that had grown perhaps too lax over the past eight years.
A second conclusion is that Tsai was able to move decisively on a number of reconciliation processes aimed at redressing past wrongs and bridging the gaps between various sectors of the population.
The two main elements of this were her apology to Aborigines on Aug. 1, and the truth and reconciliation effort related to the 228 Massacre in 1947 of about 28,000 ethnic Taiwanese by Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops and the subsequent White Terror era.
The apology to Aborigines — who make up 2.3 percent of the population, comprising 16 different peoples — seeks to address the disadvantaged social and economic position Aborigines have been pushed into during four centuries of influx of immigrants from the Chinese coastal provinces.
A key element in this effort is that for the past five decades Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), the home of the Tao community, also known as the Yami, has been used aa a depository for nuclear waste. In her Aug. 15 visit to the island, Tsai promised that removal of the nuclear waste was a high priority.
The truth and reconciliation effort related to the 228 Massacre and the White Terror era of the KMT’s repressive rule received a major boost on July 25, when the Legislative Yuan passed the Act Governing the Handling of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations (政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例) and the government set up a committee headed by lawyer and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wellington Koo (顧立雄) to deal with the issue of illegal party assets.
The assets issue has long plagued Taiwan’s political landscape, as the many valuable properties and organizations controlled by the KMT during four decades of one-party rule gave the party an unmatched advantage in terms of resources. This imbalance is now coming to an end.
However, Tsai did encounter major opposition in a related area — judicial reform. While she was moving the pieces into place for the establishment of a judicial reform committee, she also — too hastily perhaps — nominated two candidates, Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanction Commission Chief Commissioner Hsieh Wen-ting (謝文定) and Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Lin Chin-fang (林錦芳), for the positions of Judicial Yuan president and vice president respectively.
After the nominations, Hsieh turned out to have been a prosecutor during the Martial Law era, while Lin was broadly considered a conservative member of the legal establishment, not prone to be supportive of the type of legal reforms envisioned by Tsai and her supporters.
In the middle of this month the two withdrew and Tsai is considering new candidates for the nomination.
On the issue of cross-strait relations, matters have actually been relatively calm.
After Tsai’s inauguration Beijing announced that it was suspending “official” cross-strait communication mechanisms — those between the semi-official organizations on both sides, but behind the scenes there were a number of exchanges on a range of issues.
The cross-strait situation has been an oasis of calm in between the stormy developments in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea, where Beijing has been aggressively pushing the envelope, leading to increasing tensions.
This is not to say that at some point the leaders in Beijing might not ratchet up the pressure on Taiwan, but at least for now, the waters in the Taiwan Strait are relatively smooth.
Thus, the overall conclusion is that — in spite of some hiccups — things have gone quite well for Tsai. However, the public does have high expectations and people do expect real change and real reforms in the months and years ahead. Her vision for Taiwan and its future inspired people to vote for her. Now she has to make it work.
Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat and former editor of Taiwan Communique, a Washington-based publication.
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